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Women Leadership


Female LeadersLast night I had the pleasure of having dinner with an old friend and coachee.

She regaled me with hilarious tales of her latest (female) boss, and reminded me how important it is for leaders to be aware of a couple of things

Ladies, you are not men. You do not need to put ‘it’ on the table. Even, and especially, if you are in the minority, working alongside a bunch of men, you do not need to act like them. If you do, your staff will laugh at you. Period. You look like an ass.

Harvard Business Review’s September 2013 edition, leads with the headline “ Emotional, Bossy, Too Nice – the biases that still hold female leaders back”

Other than the word “emotional”, which does rankle a bit (probably because there’s an element of truth) in it, the other two words can be applied to all leaders.

I’m currently coaching a phenomenal young leader. He made partner at a really young age, and is leading a global team. He’s smart, articulate, considered – did I say smart ?  As part of my Executive Coaching Programmes, I request key stakeholder feedback – this is what one of his direct reports had to say : “ He likes to be the boss. That is fine. But he is already the boss”.

We get that you have arrived. Everyone can see you are the boss. Stop showing off and trying to prove it.

All it shows us, and what both examples have in common, is a lack of self-confidence. Ladies (and guys), please remember that when viewed from the outside, all others can do is guess the motives for your behavior.

At best they may guess that you’re trying to prove yourself. At worst, they may guess that you’re in over your head; that you lack confidence and thus need to throw your weight around to ‘stamp your authority’ on those whom you don’t really know how to lead.

And because they don’t really know what the truth is, they’ll test you until they get you or until you get real.

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We’ve just got back from a magical holiday in Bali. And on Saturday as I lay in the sun watching the kites flying high in Bali’s big blue sky, I started thinking …

But first, let me tell you about the kites. The Balinese are known for their kite-making and flying, and even hold a kite flying festival. These kites are magnificent – think elaborate ships, colourful butterflies and exotic birds up to 30 square metres in size. And they fly really high – to the point where they are potentially dangerous to air traffic.

Anyhow, as I was watching these kites, it struck me that they are a perfect metaphor for Bali – highly spiritual, yet fun and playful too. For those of you who have never been to Bali (and forgive me if you know it well), it is an extraordinary place. The Balinese practice Hinduism and you literally cannot walk down the road without seeing a shrine, or stepping over an offering or smelling incense. There are even offerings placed on the beach. Restaurant and villa staff stop what they are doing at specific times of the day to make offerings. Yet – as you walk down the tiny higgledy-piggledy roads, stepping over offerings and pointing out temples and shrines, people spill out of bars and restaurants onto the pavements, the music pumps and the place literally rocks. It’s both a spiritual and a party place – and for those of you who know me well, you know that’s just my kinda place to be.

So Bali and the metaphor of a kite, are for me, a beautiful example of ‘both-and’ thinking and it is a thinking pattern that can open up your world.

How so ?

Well, rather than limit thinking to ‘either this or that’, thinking along a continuum opens up the possibility of ‘both this and that’. By polarising the world into good: bad / right: wrong, all the choices in the middle disappear – and so do all the options.  This way of thinking often results in people believing their own stuff and closing their minds to learning new ways of being, new theories or listening to another way.

It closes down the opportunity for learning and development. It shuts off your growth. Continuing my example of Bali – tourists could be attracted by either the spirituality, or the fun. By employing continuum thinking, the island manages to attract visitors from both groups, thereby exponentially increasing tourism, revenue, job opportunities and the potential for economic growth.

Now, lets apply that to you – imagine you would like to double, maybe triple your opportunities. Imagine being highly successful and having ample down time, or giving a completely focussed presentation whilst being relaxed. Imagine a world of leaders who are respected and loved. Managers who are technical specialists and who trust enough to delegate. Small business owners who play safe yet believe in themselves enough to take calculated risks. Wouldn’t you love to be a student studying, playing sport, partying and travelling. Why not ? Why not have more ? Why not be more ?

Of course, continuum thinking is not appropriate thinking for life or death decision making, or in situations when a quick response is necessary, but if you are passionate about becoming more, this may be something you’d like to work on.

How do you know if you need to stretch yourself a bit in this area ? Well, have you ever caught yourself thinking “but that’s not the way it is done”, or “the rules say” or “you can’t have it all”. If so, maybe you’d like to consider that there is always another option. Life is not black and white, there are beautiful colours waiting to be explored. Give yourself permission to look for them and experience the most life has to offer.

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At this time of year, when you are plotting your course, and determining what your specific, measurable objectives are, be aware of what it is that you focus on.

Some of you may have heard that our brain ‘does not do negatives’. Whilst that statement is factually incorrect, it gives us a clue as to how our brain does work. What it does, is it focuses where we point it. So, as you set your Organisational and Personal Objectives, be aware of where you are pointing your brain.

 Because it is the time of year that many companies refine their business plans, I have facilitated a number of strategy sessions over the last couple of weeks. These sessions are no different to facilitating or coaching an individual to set their goals. It’s all about focussing on what you want – not what you don’t want.

 Aiming to reduce staff absenteeism by 15% is still focussing on absenteeism i.e. what you don’t want. Setting a goal of not being ill shines the spotlight on your illness. It’s like asking you not to think of a green giraffe. Where does your attention go? To the green giraffe of course. Our brain goes in the direction that we point it.

 So point your brain in a positive direction. Focus on those things that you DO want, not what you don’t want. When you know where you want to go your attention will take you there. 


For all of you who would like to ‘direction-alise’ your brains for optimal success, I am holding my annual Vision Workshop on the 19th February. It’s a half day workshop (from 08h00 – 13h00), including breakfast and you’ll walk away with specific, measurable goals, an action plan to achieve them and a beautiful Vision Board to remind you of where you are going.

 This workshop is also available as a Corporate Initiative, simply contact me to discuss your needs and I’ll tailor it specifically for you.

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You know that thing you want do ? That habit you’d like to change ? That goal you’d like to achieve ?

 They all start off the same way. You take the first step. And then you take the next step, and so on.

 So where do you get stuck ? On the first step, the second, the fifth, the twentieth ?

It may be that the steps along the path seem trivial, or they may be difficult or frustrating. Rather than focus on the hardship, it might be worthwhile to step back and look at your motivation for achieving your goal. Ask yourself what it means to you to achieve x. And when you know what it means, ask yourself why that is important to you. When you know why it is important to you, then ask yourself what is valuable about that. What does that value open for you? What becomes possible ? And what does that mean to you ?

 When you understand these higher levels of meaning, and become aware just how valuable, important and meaningful your goal is, then apply those meanings to that one step you need help with.

 I recently coached someone who wanted to compete in this year’s Iron Man. He is not a competitive athlete and had up until recently, not done any serious training. When we started uncovering his meaning it was clear that finishing the Iron Man wasn’t about the race, but that it was a metaphor for his life.

 His life up until now, had been a story around lack of preparation and completion. About getting flustered and panicked.  Today, this man is an Iron Man. He competed and finished strong – laughing at the finish line as he realised that anything is possible if you just do it step by step. His self belief has grown enormously and he now has the confidence to know that things aren’t bigger than him. He is able to do more than he ever thought – all it requires is motivation and meaning and the discipline to follow each step.

 He is proof that we are all capable of achieving our biggest goals. Know what it means to you. And use that to keep taking the next step ….


 For ease of reference, I have outlined the pattern below so that you can follow it step by step …..

I want to do (start/stop/achieve/be) __a__

What does it mean to you to achieve a ? __b___

What is important to you about b  ? __c__

How is having c of value to you ?__d__

What does having d open for you ? __e__

When you have e what becomes possible ? __f__

And what does that mean to you ? __g__


When you are aware of your highest meaning, notice how the difficult becomes possible

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I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. Which may sound ironic coming from a coach.  The reason is that a resolution is usually just a vaguely formed wish or idea, and is very rarely planned and clarified. And usually ends up creating guilt or self flagellation for not doing what was actually just a half-baked idea anyway. What our family does instead, is choose a word for the coming year that summarises the headspace with which we’d like to live the year.

Some of the words I’ve chosen over the past years have been words like ‘consolidation’, ‘fun’,’ focussed’ and ‘passion’. This year my word is ‘trust’. As a recovering control freak, this is an area that is often difficult for me. I like to know the outcome will be as I desire it before I’ve even started the process. I’m impatient. I often create additional work for myself because I check and double check things. I worry about things in the future – over which I have no control in the present. So, this year, I will keep in the foreground of my mind, my intention to trust. That everything will be as it will be.

What this thinking pattern does is keep us out of our present, always watching and planning and dreaming about the future. Now here’s the real irony. If we don’t live in the present, and plan in the present for the future, our future will never be what we want it to be.

And for a recovering control freak, that’s music to my ears. Because all we can control is our response to this moment, this situation. There is no way we can control our future. But we can certainly plan for it. What are you planning for this year ?

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